Food II
Egypt: Plenty

Our food experience in Egypt was limited. We spent only a short time there, much of it with at least one of us in bed (Cassidy was running a fever when we left Athens, and the "bug" that she had soon ran through the rest of us). We mostly ate meals prepared in our friends' home or in American-style restaurants in the suburb of Maadi where they live.

Egypt Air's inedible, smelly, freezer-burned food provided an inauspicious introduction to Egyptian cuisine. Then our Cairo cab driver proudly pointed out McDonald's and Pizza Hut on the way to our hotel. He said that Egyptians didn't eat there much because "coffee and chicken are cheap in Egypt, but meat is expensive--pretty tough on a country full of meat lovers." A hamburger would be a pretty pricey meal for the average Egyptian.

We were famished the next morning when we encountered a bounteous breakfast buffet in our hotel. It had the usual complement of Western foods, like rolls and eggs (boiled or fried in little rolls)--but it also had broad fava beans and sausage served with condiments of onions, cumin, lemon and green peppers. We later saw carts selling paper cones of these beans on the streets.

Egyptian cooking is similar to what we had encountered in Greece, but had more of the Middle East, the desert, to it. Garlic, onions, parsley, saffron, mint, lemon, cumin, cardamom, salt and pepper make up the bulk of the spices we encountered. Marinated meats (chicken, pigeon, or perhaps lamb or beef), roasted or broiled, accompanied by rice, couscous, broad beans or lentils and pickled vegetables are typical. Beans or lentils alone are more typical in a country struggling with poverty.

Trapped in the hotel by raging fevers, we ate at the hotel cafe. Lunch was a smooth and soothing lentil soup made with cumin and cardamom garnished with lemon and croutons. And late in the afternoon we were served a special tea that was as red as rose hips but tasted a bit like prune juice. The "boys" who served it watched anxiously to see what our reaction to it would be, saying that it is to be good for the heart (digestion, etc.). Those of us who politely finished it all were met with a second glass! We quickly learned the art of carrying "smalls" (small bills) to tip for these acts of kindness.

When we were feeling better, Naabi, who guided us to the pyramids on horseback also guided us to our only Egyptian meal at a small restaurant near his stables. We ate chicken cooked over coals, some served Tikka style (marinated) and some as kebabs--ground, seasoned shaped and cooked on skewers. There were round flat breads similar to those served in India, and small dishes of pickled vegetables and salads. We drank local Stella beer ( whose motto is "If it doesn't kill you it will make you stronger"--how could we resist?). Naabi proudly ate as much as the rest of us did all by himself, and was fretful that we didn't eat enough! Egypt was the first place we had seen a number of heavy people, a sign of wealth and beauty in this country, and we could see why.

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